Interdisciplinary Contributions to Contemporary Cultural Debates
Poetry and the Public Sphere: World Literature and European Languages
David T. Pan
Today’s project of a European union is an extension of an Enlightenment-era dream of an expanding public sphere that can eventually replace violent conflict with measured discussion. This project is based on a particular theory of knowledge that presumes that differences of language and culture are incidental to the problem of meaning and that an overarching, cosmopolitan consensus can be achieved through a gradual process of discussion. In the German tradition, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) stand as the primary architects of this conception of human unity. The basic metaphysical premise of this project is that it can establish a core of universal human principles around which a common political union could be built. Beginning with the European Union, such a union could conceivably expand outward to eventually encompass the entire world, thereby fulfilling Kant’s dream of perpetual peace. While this project has gone through many historical travails since its 18th century formulation, it remains a desideratum for academic proponents of the European Union such as Ulrich Beck, who sees cosmopolitan solutions as the necessary response to “an age of globalized risks” (17), and Jürgen Habermas, who emphasizes, in direct reference to Kant, that “the international community of states must develop into a cosmopolitan community of states and world citizens” (xi), and that “the European Union can be understood as an important stage along the route to a politically constituted world society” (2).
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